Ponzi Schemes and Wall Street
I hope that everyone who invests money knows that entrusting your money to someone else is risky. It doesn’t matter if the yield is 0%, 2% or 5%. The act of handing your money to someone else involves risk. So, is it then no surprise when someone like Bernard Madoff, who once the chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market, is arrested for an alleged ponzi scheme that bilked people out of billions?
Hello, no! Wake up people. When times are good, no one delves into such corrupt Wall Street vehicles because they are self-sustaining. It’s only when times become bad that these schemes fall apart. The way a ponzi scheme works is by paying old investors out with new investor money. The fund itself is not self-sustaining (and probably was never intended to be). So, as new investors dry up, the older investers can no longer be paid. The whole thing then falls apart.
But, the question isn’t so much that this one person did this. It’s the loss of trust and of faith in the system. It’s the question of how many more people are doing it? When respected people of the invesment community end up operating such scam vehicles, what does that say of Wall Street as a whole? Clearly, this is not and will not be the only ponzi scheme to turn up. It’s the first major case of it recently, but it certainly won’t be the last.
Is investing a bad idea? Not necessarily. But, it is risky. This is why diversification is part of the answer. Do not put your money into one fund or even two or three funds. Spread the money out into many funds. Granted, it’s harder to keep track of, but the chances that every single investment fund being corrupt is unlikely. However, we all know that money corrupts. So, you have to take the good with the bad when you give someone your cash to manage.
These are the kinds of problems that shake the foundations of investing to the core. These are the kinds of trust issues that the investment community needs to avoid like the plague. Yet, here we are. These are also the kinds of problems that America itself has been fostering for the last 10-15 years. Why is greed, power and corruption such a big part of the American dream today? Only a historian will be able to look back and fully answer this question. Today, these problems appear to be unrelated. But, is this problem systemic? Is it only likely to get worse? When well respected Wall Street investment professionals, such as Madoff, can bilk so many out of their money, this is much more than isolated and, indeed, does appear to be systemic and a symptom of a much bigger issue.
At this point, America needs an overhaul and perhaps this downturn and the financial sector upheaval is the beginning of that overhaul. The corporate and financial system on which this country is based is near completely broken. When 20 year veterans of Wall Street can turn to Ponzi schemes to keep their lifestyle afloat, anything can happen. So, watch your money closely when you invest. But, even doing so is no guarantee that you aren’t investing in a sham. One quote is more salient now than ever… “Caveat Emptor” (Buyer Beware).